It is 1665 and the women of Eyam keep many secrets.
Isabel Frith, the village midwife, walks a dangerous line with her herbs and remedies. There are men in the village who speak of witchcraft, and Isabel has a past to hide. So she tells nobody her fears about Wulfric, the pious, reclusive apothecary.
Mae, Wulfric’s youngest daughter, dreads her father’s rage if he discovers what she keeps from him. Like her feelings for Rafe, Isabel’s ward, or that she studies from Wulfric’s forbidden books at night.
But others have secrets too. Secrets darker than any of them could have imagined.
When Mae makes a horrifying discovery, Isabel is the only person she can turn to. But helping Mae will place them both in unspeakable peril.
And meanwhile another danger is on its way from London. One that threatens to engulf them all . . .
Based on the real history of an English village during the Great Plague, The Hemlock Cure is an utterly beguiling tale of fear and ambition, betrayal, self-sacrifice and the unbreakable bond between two women.
For an historical novel, The Hemlock Cure feels very topical!
Based on the true story of the Derbyshire village of Eyam during the great plague, this is an absolutely stunning novel, beautifully-written, atmospheric, and impeccably researched.
After the death of her mother and sister, Mae lives with her father Wulfric, the village apothecary. With her natural ability for healing, she hopes to become his apprentice, building on all she has learned from him, and from her mother’s close friend, Isabel, the village midwife. But Wulfric despises Isabel, and his feverish religious beliefs make him a very dangerous man.
When the plague comes from London, and people begin to die, the village makes the brave decision to isolate to protect others. This is something that really happened, and the author uses this historical event to weave a narrative that gives a real sense of the way that ordinary people, particularly women, were (and to an extent still are) constrained by circumstances.
Using Mae’s sister Leah as the narrator works really well. She can see what is happening, but feels powerless, in the same position as the reader. I really cared about Mae and Isabel (and the lovely Johan, Isabel’s husband).
This is wonderful story-telling, drawing you in, making you believe in the characters and the world in which they live, one of those rare books you can get lost in.